Teaching is defined by sharing knowledge.

It’s what we do.
It’s an instinct.
It’s natural.
It’s everything.

No matter what way you think this transfer of knowledge should happen, most would agree that it is the act of sharing that embodies what a teacher does. The advent of social media has made this transfer easier than ever. But there is a downside to the sharing. The more you share, and effectively teach others, and the better other teachers become as a result of your sharing, the harder you have to work to maintain your student success rates.

How can this be?

It’s all to do with the bell curve.

bell curve

Our system is norm-referenced, which means that grade boundaries are assigned only when a distribution of scores is ascertained, rendering certain percentages to achieve a grade 4 or above, and a certain percentage to not. This is due to the inability of a criterion-based system to eliminate errors in reliability. For example, it is difficult to set the same standard of test year after year. Some tests will not be as difficult (cohort’s scores rise), and some years the exam will be considered harder (cohort’s grades fall). The norm referencing moderates these errors, and in doing so attempts to validate the results. But the nasty by product is that a certain percentage has to fall below the average, and it is these students who are deemed to not have achieved the required grade. This can be regardless of them attaining a level of skill that in other years would have been deemed to be acceptable.

Consequences: So, as we become better teachers, via sharing and learning from others, we facilitate our students getting better scores, effectively pushing the curve over to the right. This means that instead of being rewarded for creating a better, smarter society, we are actually shackled with increased pressure to not only emulate but increase the achievement the next year. However, teachers are already pushed to extremes with workload and pressures are becoming unsustainable. There’s certainly no need for me to reference any evidence about that!

To emphasise the interminable nature of this scenario, take as an example, a 5-year government goal, to guarantee that every teacher teaching in every school in the land had been observed to be a good or outstanding teacher. You would think that achieving such a feat would satisfy all concerned. But it’s actually never going to happen, because it’s pretty hard to say a teacher is good or outstanding if their students haven’t passed. There’s little getting away from the fact that the label of good or outstanding is heavily tied to grades, and so it’s not statistically possible to achieve this goal.

That just doesn’t seem right.

Solutions? Can examination boards work harder to produce criterion-based examinations? Are there other ways of achieving credible, valid and reliable measures of our students’ knowledge? I know it’s a complex discussion, and the answers aren’t easy. Tom Sherrington discusses the issue with as much clarity as one could here. But when we look at the increasing cost to those on the front line, us, and to the statistically disadvantaged students, it certainly could be something that the education community as a collective could put more consideration into.

It is completely counter-intuitive to not want to share and teach others. But can we sustain it?

I’m Paul Moss.

Follow me if you like on Twitter: @edmerger

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